This article originally appeared in
Italians' love for vacations gets in the way of business
07/22/2002 - Updated 08:56 PM ET

By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY

    ROME — Need to do business in Italy in August? Good luck.

    August has always been the main vacation month for most of Europe, with life — and business
    — in Portugal, Spain, France and Greece all grinding to a halt as shops close and almost
    everyone heads to the seaside or mountains.

    But nowhere is the trend more pronounced than in Italy, where entire swaths of the population
    move and dramatically change the country's demographics.

    Last year, the population of Rome — Italy's largest city — dropped to 1.7 million from 3.3 million
    during the rest of the year. No. 2 Milan plunged to fourth as its population slid to 650,000 from 1.8
    million. Southern cities Naples and Palermo — normally Italy's third- and sixth-largest
    metropolitan areas, respectively — rose to second and third as fewer residents left town and
    travelers form the north flocked in.

It would be difficult to overestimate the effect that kind of shift has on business:

  • Officials at the stock exchange say the volume drops by a third during August.
  • Television networks report ratings are about a fourth lower than in July.
  • The National Statistics Institute says the country's industrial production generally drops to just above half the level it maintains
    before the break.

"The trend is less pronounced than it was 30 years ago, and the nature of the vacations Italians take has changed, but August will
never be just another month," says Marco Baldi, a director with the economic research institute Censis. "This is part of the culture."

Tourists in any of the European countries with major August holiday traditions will have few problems in August, aside from having to
compete with the locals for hotel and restaurant space in the top resort areas.

But the problems become more severe for those trying to do business in August. Most midsize and large corporations keep only
skeleton crews, and most small firms close for the month.

Several years ago, the Italian Stock Exchange had to warn traded companies to keep someone available to answer questions from
investors in August, a problem that wasn't solved entirely until the advent of cell phones meant that investor relations directors could
be reached even while soaking up the sun.

"It used to be difficult to find someone to answer a simple question in August, but that's not a problem any more," says Giulio
Baresani-Varini, CEO of asset management company Euroconsult. "Now the problem has become the fact that volume can be thin,
and if someone wants to sell shares in a small company, there may be few investors available to buy them."

By the way, if you're hoping for a well-placed hotel room for August in trendy Porto Cervo on the Italian island of Sardinia or along the
country's dramatic Amalfi Coast, better hurry. There are just handfuls left — for August 2004.

That's because Italians plan ahead for that all-important August vacation.

"Italians have a reputation of leaving things until the last minute, but that's not the case when they plan for August," says Rita Nicolini,
director of Sun Tours in Rome. "August is too important."
Copyright 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Italy's spectacular Amalfi Coast attracts
throngs of vacationers, many of whom
planned their trip a year in advance.